Internet Shakespeare Editions


Hamlet's advice to the players

It is likely that acting in Shakespeare's day was more formal than it is today. Nonetheless, Shakespeare had a great deal of fun at the expense of old-fashioned acting styles in the plays-within-the-plays in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet. Hamlet has some well-known advice for the travelling actors who visit Elsinore:

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently. . .

Hamlet continues, in the process criticizing a portion of the audience -- the "groundlings" who paid only a penny, and stood for the whole performance:

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated* fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows* and noise...

More advice...


  1. What does he mean?

    Dumb shows
    Mimed action, often intended to explain action in summary. There is a dumb-show in Hamlet, in the play-within-the-play (3. 2. 138), which is sufficiently inexplicable that Hamlet has to explain it to the audience-in-the-play.